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Archive for the ‘Contract, Contracts’ Category

Billy Broussard of Breaux Bridge has been fighting a lonely battle for a decade. He has lost in court against a stacked deck and before a judge who appeared predisposed to rule against him at every turn and to verbally berate him in the process.

And now, LouisianaVoice has learned that someone who calls himself an attorney is doing all he can to add threat to injury. When you read the letter from a Lake Charles attorney—actually written nearly a year ago but which only recently came into our possession—you have to wonder where he got his law degree.

Briefly, Broussard’s story started after Hurricane Rita hit Calcasieu Parish back in 2005, just a few weeks behind Katrina.

Broussard was contracted by Calcasieu officials to clean debris from the storm. But, he said, officials started adding work assigned in the original contract. Debris which was in Indian Bayou and Little Indian Bayou before the storm were ordered cleared. The bayou was in close proximity to a high-ranking parish official, Broussard says.

The problem arose when FEMA refused to approve payment for removal of pre-existing debris and Calcasieu Parish refused to make up the difference of something a little north of $1 million.

It didn’t much matter to FEMA that Mike Higdon, the man responsible for making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project, is a half-brother to John Reon, superintendent of Gravity Drainage District 8, for whom Broussard performed his cleanup work.

making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project (Mike Higdon) where he acknowledges that he is a brother of the superintendent of GDD8 John Reon.

Broussard sued and lost but he persisted in seeking public records that would support his position so that he could turn the information over to the media, LouisianaVoice included.

And those efforts to obtain public records led to a threatening letter-from-attorney-russell-stutes-jr which instead of harassment on Broussard’s part, would appear to border on harassment by someone attempting to use his position as an attorney to intimidate Broussard.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous complaints by Calcasieu Parish officials regarding your repetitive public records requests…with respect to the Indian Bayou/Little Indian Bayou project,” Stutes’s letter begins and quickly went downhill from there.

Following more verbiage from Stutes, he incredulously wrote, “…all Calcasieu Parish employees have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands from you associated with the project.”

As to underscore his bullying tactic, Stutes also wrote later in the letter, “Accordingly, the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges. A rule for contempt of court will be filed, and we will request injunctive relief from Judge (David) Ritchie. Given Judge Ritchie’s outrage at your frivolous claims last year, you and I both know the next time you are brought before him regarding the project, it will likely result in you serving time for deliberately disregarding his rulings.”

Say WHAT?! Who the hell does Stutes think he is, the judges from the Fourth Judicial District in Monroe who filed SUIT against the Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe because the publication requested public records? Or Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, who SUED two educators when they sought public records? (Note to Stutes: White lost that little gambit decisively in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.)

If Mr. Stutes would bother to take the time to read Louisiana Revised Statute 44.1 (et seq.) R.S. 44.1 (et seq.) which states unequivocally that any citizen 18 years or older has an unfettered right to review (and purchase copies of) any public record in the possession of any public body from the smallest hamlet in the state right on up to the office of the governor.

There is nothing in that statutes that says one can be prohibited from obtaining public documents simply because he came out on the short end of the stick in a court of law.

Likewise, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:4.1 (et seq.) R.S. 42:4.1 (et seq.), specifically R.S. 42:4.4(c) clearly states that all public bodies “shall provide” and opportunity for comments from citizens.

“Consider this your final warning, Mr. Broussard,” Stutes wrote. The harassment of Calcasieu Parish employees must completely and immediately cease. Otherwise, we are prepared to follow through with all remedies allowed by law.”

What a crock.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Stutes. I understand you are contracted by Calcasieu Parish officials, be it the police jury or the gravity drainage district. It doesn’t matter which one, but should I (and I am not Mr. Broussard’s “representative”) decide I wish to obtain public records from either of these bodies, woe be unto anyone who attempts to harass me with a letter like the one you wrote to Mr. Broussard.

It is I who shall follow through with all remedies allowed by law, including fines of up to $500 per day and possible jail time for non-compliance.

Do yourself a favor and read the public records and public meeting laws of the Gret Stet of Looziana.

They’re quite enlightening.

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When 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley presided over a hearing earlier this week involving the state’s Small Rental Property Program, did he violate Louisiana’s so-called “gold standard of ethics” instituted by former Gov. Bobby Jindal or worse, the Code of Judicial Conduct?

Kelley, over the objections of defendant Tony Pelicano, Monday ruled in favor of the state’s motion to dismiss “without prejudice” its foreclosure proceedings on Pelicano’s Metairie rental property. https://www.road2la.org/SRPP/Default.aspx

Dismissing without prejudice means the state may renew its foreclosure efforts at any time. Pelicano attorney Jill Craft wanted the case dismissed “with prejudice,” which would mean the matter would have been over and done.

With Kelley’s ruling, the state continues to hold the potential forfeiture of his property over Pelicano’s head for years—all because Pelicano, himself a contractor, had no say in which contractor rebuilt his rent home after Hurricane Katrina. Pelicano refused to accept the work which was done with what he says were inferior materials that did not meet specifications and which is now rotting and molding.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/10/03/victim-of-post-katrina-road-home-program-comes-to-baton-rouge-seeking-justice-departs-defeated-disillusioned-angry/

Even though cases in the 19th JDC are assigned to judges by lot, perhaps it would have been prudent for Kelley to have handed Pelicano’s case off to another of the seven judges who preside over civil cases.

Kelley’s wife is Angele Davis.

Angele Davis was Commissioner of Administration which oversaw the Small Rental Program through the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD).

https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/BD68D20624D06F8A862574A400526ACC/$FILE/00003E7C.pdf

Davis served as Commissioner of Administration under Bobby Jindal from January 2007 until August 2010. The Division of Administration (DOA) was responsible for the Road Home Program through OCD. Paul Rainwater was Jindal’s first OCD Executive Director until he succeeded Davis as Commissioner of Administration in 2010. http://www.doa.la.gov/comm/PressReleases/CommAnnounce.htm

Even though Davis no longer serves in state government, the fact that the Small Rent Program was administered by her office through OCD, the propriety of Kelley’s presiding over legal disputes involving the program could be brought into question.

http://www.doa.la.gov/OCDDRU/Action%20Plan%20Amendments/Katrina-Rita%20First/APA25_Approved.pdf

Craft argued passionately against the dismissal without prejudice, saying, “I don’t file lawsuits just to come back and say, ‘Just kidding.’ The state shouldn’t be given the opportunity to come back at some later date for another bite.”

Kelley did throw Pelicano a bone of sorts when he ruled against the state and allowed a trial by jury—before agreeing to the dismissal without prejudice. The jury trial ruling was basically meaningless in light of the subsequent dismissal without prejudice, however.

Following Kelley’s ruling and after he had left the courtroom, Pelicano had a brief emotional outburst, yelling to DOA attorney Lesia Batiste that the state could take the property. “I’ve had it!” he shouted. “Just take it!”

It’s not as if Kelley had no way of knowing of his wife’s involvement with the program; her name is all over official documents dealing with all the Road Home programs set up to help the state recover from Hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

http://lra.louisiana.gov/assets/docs/searchable/meetings/2010/Board%20Meeting%201-28-10/APA4PublicComment.pdf

All this is not to say Kelley allowed his position to be used to favor the state because of his wife’s involvement with the programs. He did, after all, rule against the state in other cases that came before him, notably the infamous CNSI debacle. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/louisiana-court-give-contractor-records-about-cancellation/article/2546170/comments

But he also inexplicably ruled in favor of the Jindal administration against the public’s right to know in a major public records lawsuit in 2013 involving applications for the LSU presidency. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_f69f910d-0f80-5ddd-8d9d-06316e5ffa43.html

In a political atmosphere where perception is everything and in a state with as sordid a reputation for corruption as Louisiana, Kelley should have punted as soon as this case landed on his desk.

Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct says, in part:

A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. 

https://www.lasc.org/rules/supreme/cjc.asp

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Tony Pelicano won a skirmish but may have lost the war in his years-long battle with the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD) over poor workmanship and claims of fraud in connection with the reconstruction of a rent house in Metairie destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Because inferior materials were used in the work, Pelicano, himself a contractor, refused to accept the work and he filed suit against the contractor and the state filed suit against him to foreclose on the property.

The trial for his suit against Woodrow Wilson Contractors of Baton Rouge is scheduled for trial in January. The state’s foreclosure suit was scheduled for jury trial on Monday but the state threw a curve ball at Pelicano who apparently had not suffered quite enough in the eyes of OCD and the Division of Administration (DOA).

To make matters worse, the state’s attorney, Lesia Batiste, laughed at an emotional Pelicano after court adjourned.

Pelicano, represented by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft, entered Monday’s proceedings in 19th Judicial District Court fighting the state’s motion to deny Pelicano a jury trial but less than two hours before jury selection was slated to begin, Batiste filed a motion to dismiss its case without prejudice, meaning the state would be free to renew its foreclosure efforts at any time in the future.

Craft argued vehemently in favor of dismissal with prejudice, meaning the case would be over and done.

In September 2009, Pelicano was personally solicited by the State of Louisiana through OCD to submit an application to become the first test applicant for the Small Rental Program through the agency. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/23/state-ocd-figure-partnered-with-firm-that-blocked-repairs-to-road-home-project-shelter-at-home-follows-same-formula/

Specifications called for pressure treated lumber for the house but upon inspecting the work, Pelicano discovered pressure treated lumber was not used, leading almost immediately to termite infestation. Moreover, leaks in the roof resulted in rust of the top of the hot water heater and kitchen stove and the hot water heater was located in the wrong place, resulting in workers having to cut a hole in the door in order to close it. Joints and window sills have separated since the work was done, all of which have left the house uninhabitable despite Batiste’s contention that “I would live in the house.”

An independent engineer was retained by Pelicano to inspect the house. His photos-and-report are included here in order that you, the reader, can determine if you would pay rent to live in the house.

“I don’t file a suit and then come in here on the day of jury selection and say, ‘Hey, just kidding. They don’t get a do-over,” she said.

“The home owner (Pelicano) must approve a contractor’s punch list. All corrections in construction must be made before the contractor can be paid. These people (Pelicano and his wife) have gone through enough,” Craft said. “Dismissing without prejudice means the state may want to sue them again.”

She said the Pelicanos and the state “reached a settlement in 2013 and the state backed out. That cost my clients an extra $10,000 and now the state wants to allow itself another bite.”

Batiste argued that she did not believe a dismissal without prejudice would create any hardship on the Pelicanos.

District Judge Tim Kelley ruled that the Pelicanos were entitled to a jury trial but then upheld the state’s motion for dismissal without prejudice.

After Kelley adjourned court and exited the courtroom, Pelicano shouted to Batiste, “Take the house! Just take it! I’ve had it! I’m Through!”

Batiste, watching Pelicano’s emotional outburst, laughed.

“It’s not funny,” Craft said to Batiste.

LouisianaVoice asked Batiste why the state would not dismiss with prejudice and her answer left no doubt that the state still has the Pelicanos in its crosshairs.

“They’re under foreclosure,” she said. Not were, but are. Left unsaid was the unmistakable intent that the state would be back for more retribution against the Pelicanos at some future date.

“Have you seen that house?” we asked.

“Yes, I’ve been in it. There’s nothing wrong with it. I would live in it.”

No, she would not. Not without raising holy hell over the condition of the structure.

And neither would you. The mold and mildew in the house, fostered by what Pelicano says was the use of substandard materials,  presents a clear health hazard.

And now the state is asking August flood victims to trust its Shelter at Home program, the illegitimate child of its precursor, the Road Home program.

Pelicano came to Baton Rouge Monday hoping for some measure of justice but the state lived down to its customary expectations of disillusionment and disappointment which in turn only nurtures a climate of manipulation and corruption.

He deserves better.

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Before you accept the state’s Shelter at Home program, you may want to consider the quality of workmanship—or lack thereof—that some 2016 flood victims who have participated are experiencing. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_3116e8b6-7abb-11e6-91c5-d3139b79d965.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

While you should beware of shoddy work by contractors, you should also consider that all work done will likely need to be re-done and makeshift (inferior) plumbing will have to be replaced at your cost.

If that is not enough to convince you, you may wish to follow an important trial scheduled to begin in the 19th Judicial District courtroom of District Judge Tim Kelly on October 3.

The upcoming trial is over the foreclosure on rental property owned by Metairie resident Tony Pelicano and his company, L&T Development. Pelicano also has legal action pending against defendants the State of Louisiana through the Office of Community Development, The Shaw Group, Inc., Woodrow Wilson Construction Co., both of Baton Rouge, and Western Surety Co. of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Pelicano purchased a rental house on Turnbull Street in Metairie on April 28, 2005, just in time for it to be heavily damaged four months and one day later when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29.

Pelicano, like victims of the flood almost exactly 11 years later (Aug. 11-14), was solicited by the state to take part in a state-sponsored recovery program.

In the case of Katrina, it was the Office of Community Development (OCD) that oversaw the Post-Katrina Disaster Housing Assistance and Household Transition Program. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_research_041913.html

With the floods of 2016, it is the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) that took over the Shelter at Home Program.

http://gov.louisiana.gov/page/shelter-at-home-program

The Shelter at Home Program provides up to $15,000 to make a flood-damaged home habitable while the dwelling is being repaired. But the homeowner has no say in the choosing of a contractor to do the work. Nor does the homeowner receive any of that $15,000; all monies paid out go to the contractor.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s déjà vu all over again.

Despite the fact that Tony Pelicano is himself a contractor, he was told that not only could he not select his contractor for the Rental Assistance Program, but he could not even do the work himself. Nor did he receive funds to pay the contractor; that was paid by the State Office of Community Development directly to the contractor.

In both cases, the homeowner has no say about the quality of work, is unable to withhold payment should the contractor, who was not of his choosing, should do substandard work. http://www.wafb.com/story/33133888/video-raises-questions-about-shelter-at-home-program

http://www.wbrz.com/news/shelter-at-home-program-leaves-mess-in-st-amant-home/

And that is precisely why Pelicano is headed for trial the first week in October.

At the outset, a community block grant was awarded in the amount of $75,000 with the additional $14,595 in costs to be paid by Pelicano at closing.

OCD then selected Woodrow Wilson Construction Co. to serve as contractor. When Pelicano requested the ability to select his own contractor, “OCD advised him he was not entitled to have any say nor (sic) input with respect to the employment of Woodrow Wilson for the rehabilitation and reconstruction project,” one of Pelicano’s court filings says.

In September, 2009, Pelicano was personally solicited by the State of Louisiana, through Mark Maier, Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD and a principal of Maier Consulting, to submit an application to become the first test applicant with the Small Rental Program through the State Office of Community Development, Pelicano says in a sworn affidavit.

“This Program administers federal funds to small rental property owners in order to facilitate the reconstruction of small rental properties in order to return them to commerce, post-Katrina, and provide affordable housing for Katrina victims,” he said. “This is accomplished through a forgivable loan of $75,000.00 and we personally put up the additional sum of $14,595.00 from our own personal funds.

In May 2012, Pelicano said he attended a meeting in Baton Rouge attended by Maier, OCD Supervisor for the Small Rental Program Brad Swayze and Dan Rees, also of OCD. When Pelicano protested that construction change orders were made without his knowledge or consent, he says he was threatened and told he had no rights to his own property. Pelicano claims he was told if he contacted the media, his bank note would be accelerated and that a lawsuit would be filed against him—“threats that OCD fulfilled,” he says.

Those change orders included, among others:

  • Substituting non-pressure treated lumber instead of the pressure treated lumber called for in the building specifications;
  • Sloppy fittings of windows which allowed moisture to invade the structure;
  • Relocating the hot water heater to a location that could pose a threat of fire, and
  • Cutting a hole in the door in order to make the hot water tank fit.

Pelicano subsequently hired a professional engineering and inspection firm, Gurtler Brothers of New Orleans, to evaluate the reconstruction efforts. He presented copies of the firm’s photos-and-report and asked that immediate action be taken to remedy the conditions of the property.

“OCD refused,” he says, “and instead, contacted another construction company, Lago Construction Co. (which is not an engineering nor a qualified inspection firm) to conduct an ‘impartial’ inspection.”

Lago then issued a report passing off defects “as either minor or simply not in need of fixing,” Pelicano says.

Incredibly, Pelicano later learned that Lago was a business partner with Maier Consulting, headed by that same Mark Maier who simultaneously served as Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD. http://images.bimedia.net/documents/Lago+-+SRPP+Labor+Analysis+10-25-12.pdf

No conflict of interest there, right?

Oh, wait. It gets better.

The head of Lago, Praveen Kailas, whose family poured more than $23,000 into Bobby Jindal’s campaigns in 2003, 2007 and 2011, pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges of fraudulent billing in the…(wait for it)….Louisiana Road Home’s Small Rental Property Program. http://www.claimsjournal.com/news/southcentral/2013/08/22/235416.htm

Jindal’s office said it launched an internal investigation but dropped the probe when Mark Maier, the consultant (and, did we mention, coincidentally, Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD?) wrote a note absolving Lago of any wrongdoing.

He wrote a note, folks, clearing his business partner of wrongdoing but relied on that same business partner to block recovery by a man ripped off by the very program he headed.

Perhaps someone should have written a note for Richard Nixon, or John Wayne Gacy, or Mark David Chapman, or John Hinckley, Jr., or former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, or former Federal Judge Thomas Porteous.

We could go on but you get the idea: He wrote a damned note to clear his partner but that same tainted relationship played a major role in events that today see the state trying to foreclose on Tony Pelicano.

What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

What could possibly go wrong with the Shelter at Home Program?

And did Jindal return any of that $23,000 from the third (at a minimum) convicted felon who contributed big bucks to his campaigns?

Or did he write a note on their behalf?

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co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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